CD REVIEW: Black Lips “Arabia Mountain”

They call themselves “flower punk” and that’s probably the best description anyone can come up with when referring to Black Lips. Formed in 1999 in Atlanta, the Lips are part of the garage rock revival movement that ushered in the 21st century. Along with groups like The Flaming Sideburns, The Hives, The Strokes, King Khan and the Shrines, The White Stripes, and Jay Reatard, to name a few, Black Lips have been imperative in helping produce the new old styles and sounds of garage punk.

Unlike their previous albums, even up to their 2009 release 200 Million Thousand, Arabia Mountain is a lot tighter in sound. This is probably due in part to Mark Ronson, who holds producing credits on the album. Arabia Mountain manages to keep the core throwback sound of the Lips, even though the record is much more cleaned up. Ronson was careful not to lose the idiosyncrasies of Black Lips in the production, and the result is an enjoyable record that still has the true Lips style stamped all over it.

Black Lips’ stylistic marriage of garage rock and “flower punk” is apparent on Arabia Mountain. And what a happy marriage it is. There’s everything here – something old (the throwback musical compositions with the catchy melodies and feel-good tempos), something new (the lyrics, which include topics like “Noc-A-Homa,” the original mascot for the Atlanta Braves), something borrowed (the vocals and presentation of the music, which are all but antiquated), and something blue (…ok, so there’s no blue). The record starts off with “Family Tree,” which is one of those songs where you think, “I swear I’ve heard this before in a Tarantino flick….” And I mean that in the best way possible. With Cole Alexander’s guttural vocals singing over a perfectly seductive melody, it’s hard not to get hypnotized into the vintage ambiance created by the Lips.

For the most part, the album is seamless; nothing seems out of place or jumps out at you in a bad way. Songs like “Modern Art,” “Go Out and Get It,” “Dumpster Dive,” “New Direction,” and the overlapping, doo-wop-on-crack chorus of “Don’t Mess My Baby” are some standout tracks. “Spidey’s Curse” is a definite keeper that, despite the lyrics, sounds like a bunch of kids took a 1960s pop song and ran it through a 1970s-punk grinder. “Mad Dog” is also a solid track, despite the horn in the background that kind of sounds like the guitar riff to the Pixies’ “La La Love You.”

Many songs on Arabia Mountain are reminiscent of the originals of garage rock. “Bicentennial Man” sounds like it could’ve been performed by The Kingsmen and “Time” is a proper garage song that’s akin to the style of The Sonics. Even the closing track, “You Keep on Running” is in a true Black Lips psychedelic vein, for it sounds like a long-lost demo of Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd. However, with 16 songs in total, it’s inevitable that not every track on the album will be mind-blowingly amazing. “Mr Driver,” “The Lie,” and “Bone Marrow” while still decent songs, don’t necessarily match up to the quality of some of the other songs. It’s like being at a party – there are going to be times where even though you don’t want to leave, you’re bored or unstimulated enough to steal a glance at your watch. It doesn’t mean that the party’s lame – it’s almost just a moment to breathe and get ready for the next segment of jovial debauchery.

The Lips may simply be reviving an old genre of music, but they do it in a way that seems authentic; meaning, they don’t sound like all they’re ripping anything or anyone off. There’s a fine line between inspiration and imitation, and the Lips seem to know better than to veer off into the land of imitation. Arabia Mountain is a commendable effort, another great portrait of “flower-punk,” if that’s your scene. Just don’t expect to be able to concentrate much else when you put the album in, because once it’s on, it’s definitely on. After all, the Black Lips were made for rockin’ and rollin’, and you best believe that’s what they’re going to do.